Pre-empting the looming famine 

The United Nations (UN) and an agency known as World Food Prices (WFP) have painted grim and frightening pictures of impending food crisis in Nigeria. The UN lists Nigeria among 10 nations in Africa that would suffer perilous food insecurity between June and August 2024.

The WFP contends that 31.8 million Nigerians would starve on the throes of malnutrition because of catastrophic food insecurity between June and August 2024. Those warnings should not be dismissed with a wave of the hand.

Developments in the markets lend credence to the catastrophic food insecurity predictions by the two global agencies.

Garri, a cassava derivative consumed extensively in almost every part of Nigeria by the rich and poor, has been priced beyond the reach of Nigeria’s 140 million people toiling below poverty line. 

Last month the quantity of garri in a 50kg bag could be obtained at N20,000 in Lagos.

Last week the price inexplicably shot to N54,000 in Lagos. 

The message from the market is that the poor who hitherto could soak garri in cold water and consume it without soup as an accompaniment could no longer do so because the item generally known as poor man’s food has suddenly become luxury food item.

With the recent development in the market, starvation looms everywhere in Nigeria as predicted by the two global bodies. 

Fresh tomato which was largely regarded as the exclusive preserve of the rich and a few in the lower end of the middle income bracket has been priced out of the reach of the semi-poor. 

A basket of tomatoes which hitherto sold for N15,000 to N20,000 now sells for anything from N200,000. The cost of a bag of rice now sails perilously close to N90,000.

No one knows precisely why the famine is looming over Nigeria. It is true that Nigeria is not producing enough food for its population of 218 million people. But the food supply deficit is not as calamitous as the surging prices suggest.

Nigeria’s food insecurity has not reached a point that consumers would go to the market with money but could not find food items to buy. 

The food items are there but inflation has eaten so deep into the purchasing power of the naira that wads of currency notes can only purchase very few food items.

The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) blames greedy wholesalers and retailers for the surging inflation in the midst of considerable supply of food items in the markets.  

The agency blames hoarding and artificial price manipulations by wholesalers and retailers for the looming famine in the land.

The federal government must take steps to pre-empt the impending food security catastrophe. 

Government’s plan to drop import duties on food imports would allow rice and other food items to arrive Nigeria at considerably lower prices given the naira’s precipitous depreciation in the foreign exchange market.

However, that is just a short-term measure. The permanent solution to Nigeria’s man-made food insecurity is for government to invest heavily in mechanised farming. 

We can no longer feed a population of 218 million by clearing the land with cutlasses and tilling the soil with hoes. Tractors and combined harvesters must replace cutlasses and hoes.

Besides, government must take a second look at Nigeria’s obdurate insecurity crisis. There are fears that traditional rulers and some unpatriotic elements in the security services are conniving with bandits in exchange for a huge chunk of the proceeds of kidnappings now keeping farmers from the fields.

Those who connive with bandits must be identified and treated as criminals to send a message to the bandits themselves. That is the only way to convince farmers to return to the fields and produce food. 

The herdsmen conflict with crop farmers must be halted too. 

Escalating cost of energy has contributed immensely to surging food inflation. Diesel at N1,400 per liter escalates the cost of evacuating  food items from Nigeria’s inaccessible rural farms to the markets in an economy where most of the land transportation system is concentrated on roads.

Government must end Nigeria’s shameful dependence on imported refined petroleum products. That is the only way to bring down the price of diesel.

Nigeria must develop its rail system to ease the cost of hauling food items from rural farms to the urban markets. 

Everyone knows that railway is the cheapest means of evacuating goods and commuters. Nigeria has paid lip service to rail development for too long. The time to reverse the under-development is now. Government must work hard to develop a rail link between the east and the west. That is why the laudable Calabar-Lagos coastal road project should be completed in less than eight years. 

FCCPC has complained bitterly about the evil role of wholesalers and retailers in Nigeria’s surging inflation. Government must act on those complaints. 

FCCPC tribunal should be empowered to try profiteering wholesalers and retailers.

The wings of treacherous manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers must be clipped if consumers must go to the market with money in their pockets and come back with goods in baskets.

We are heading precipitously to a situation where consumers go to the market with money in baskets and come back with goods in their pockets. 

That dangerous precipice to the abyss must be halted.

The government’s plan to pay the sum of N75,000 per month to needy families is a highly commendable palliative. The only danger in that plan is the high level of corruption in the land especially where government has no data on the needy families targeted for the largesse.

Those lapses call for extra care on the part of government if the money must get to the needy. Besides, there are fears that the incentive could be used to boost political party patronage.

That would be dangerous at a time when hunger threatens something close to 140 million compatriots toiling below poverty line. Government must avoid that temptation in the sharing of the palliative.